24 March, 2009

Mexican Duo Reunite For Comedy Film

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Two of Mexico’s best known actors, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, who made their first impressions in the international arthouse hit Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, are reunited in the film RUDO Y CURSI, a Spanish language comedy directed by Carlos Cuaron (brother of Alfonso Cuaron and a co-screenwriter of TAMBIEN). The film, about two dim-witted brothers who are recruited by rival soccer teams, had its international premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and will be shown at next month’s Tribeca Film Festival. The film, co-produced by Los Angeles-based Cha Cha Cha Films and Mexico City-based Canana Producciones, is being distributed in North America by arthouse distributor Sony Pictures Classics and will open in early May. With positive advance buzz, international interest in the lead actors and a skillful distributor, the film should become one of the arthouse hits of the season in American and Europe.

19 March, 2009

Chilean Director Wins IFG Award In Miami

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Chilean director Sebastian Silva has been awarded the International Film Guide Inspiration Award at the Miami International Film Festival (6-15 March 2009) for his debut film THE MAID (La Nana). The Award, sponsored by UK book publisher Wallflower Press ( and American dvd distributor The Criterion Collection (, honors emerging filmmakers at international film festivals and events worldwide. The Miami International Film Festival ( was the first film event in North America this year to offer the prize, a library of film books and classic DVDs with a cash value of US $2500.

THE MAID has become one of Latin America’s hottest titles after winning the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Competition at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. It repeated the trick of winning Best Film honors one month later at the Cartagena Film Festival. The film is the debut of Sebastian Silva, a multifaceted artist whose body of work includes painting, illustration and popular music. For his first feature, he has chosen a subject that is both subtle and controversial in Latin American culture. The role of the established maid in an upper class Latin American home is sacrosanct….a servant who is treated equally as a family member and a social outcast. When said family brings another additional help, the claws come out as these servants fight for “head of place” for the often ungrateful family. The actress who portrays the reserved yet flinty older maid is played by Catalina Saavedra, who has won awards for her performance at the Sundance and the Cartagena film festivals.

The film was produced by Gregorio Gonzalez of Forastero (, a production company based in Santiago, Chile and Tiburon Filmes, and is being sold internationally by Los Angeles-based sales company Shoreline Entertainment ( THE MAID was shot on location in Santiago and has been featured at the film festivals in Rotterdam and Berlin in Europe and what will certainly be many other North American film festivals, following its Sundance win.

The International Film Guide Inspiration Award has been designed to honor emerging filmmakers at major film festivals around the world. Winners have a choice of a dozen film books from the library of Wallflower Press and a 10 DVD classic film collection from the Criterion Collection featuring the masterworks of such icons as Fellini, Bergman, Hitchcock, Truffaut, Kurosawa, Godard and several others.

“It’s one thing for a young director to make one film, it’s another to sustain a career as a film artist”, commented Sandy Mandelberger, North American representative and IFG Website Editor ( “Through books written about some of the world’s great directors and a library of visionary films from true film maestros, a young filmmaker can really absorb the important lessons they will need as they attempt a full career in an often uncertain business. These legendary filmmakers can offer these new film artists some encouragement and inspiration.”

18 March, 2009

Italian Film Wins Top Prize At Miami FF

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The 26th edition of the Miami International Film Festival, and the first under former Locarno FF veteran Tiziana Finzi, came to a stimulating and warm-spirited climax on Saturday evening, with the Festival’s hommage to festival winners, held in the rococo-meets-arts deco palace known as the Gusman Theater for the Performing Arts, the jewel of downtown Miami.

The Italian drama THE PAST IS A FOREIGN LAND (Il Passagto E Una Terra Straniera) by Daniele Vicari won top prize honors in the World Cinema Competition, with an impressive $25,000 cash prize from the Knight Foundation. In the Ibero-American Competition, a special feature of the festival devoted to films from Spain, Portugal and Latin America, the choice of the Jury was the four-hour Argentine epic HISTORIAS EXTRAORDINARIAS, a metaphysical journey in peace and wartime directed by Mariano Llinas. In a strong year for documentaries, the jury singled out SHAKESPEARE AND VICTOR HUGO’S INTIMACIES, a reflective tableau of secrets, mental illness and gay prostitution that is at its heart a journey into the subjects of identity and community, directed by Mexican director Yulene Olaizola.

The International Film Guide Inspiration Award, a new prize being given out at major international film festivals, singled out an Ibero-American filmmaker at the start of his career who has already established a unique visual execution and an identifiably expressive style. Sebastian Silva is a renaissance man from Chile whose body of work includes painting, illustration, pop music and, now, filmmaking. THE MAID, his skillfully trenchant view of class politics in Latin American culture, won him an Award that includes a film library of cinema titles from Wallflower Press (, the leading film book publisher in the UK, and a set of classic dvds drawn from the sublime library of dvd distributor The Criterion Collection ( In addition, the winning film and filmmaker will be profiled on the sister website: and be featured in the 2010 edition of the Guide, to be printed in January 2010 and distributed at the Berlin Film Festival and other key international events.

The Audience Award prizes spread the wealth among the many fine films at the festival, giving an indication of how these films play for enthusiastic audiences. In the World Cinema Competition, the Irish/Swedish co-production KISSES, an emotionally involving story about preteens in working class Ireland, showcases its young cast and the obvious skills of its director Lance Daly. In the popular Ibero-American competition, audiences were moved and entertained by NORA’S WILL (5 Dias sin Nora), a semi-autobiographical dramedy set in Mexico City’s tight Jewish community, by the multi-tasking writer/director Mariana Chenillo. 16 MEMORIES which won the votes of audiences in the International Documentary Competition, is an effervescent and telling montage of personal family “home movies” that has been compiled by Colombian director Camilo Botero Jaramillo into a bittersweet story of family tragedies and celebrations and the passage of time. The Festival Juries were quite generous with their jury mentions awarding screenwriters, directors, cinematographers and actors.

To get more information on all the winning films and a complete list of winners, go to the Festival’s website:

12 March, 2009

Miami Honors For A Neglected Indie Auteur

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

It is not as unusual as it may at first sound…..a filmmaker with over 40 years of experience and over 25 films in the can is lionized in Europe but underappreciated in his home country. That has been the fate of many of the original American indies of the 1970s, including such celebrated auteurs as Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley, Amos Poe and Susan Seidelman, and a more recent crop that includes Harmony Korine and Todd Solondz. Most prominently on this list is the idiosyncratic filmmaker Abel Ferrara. The Miami International Film Festival is attempting to correct this by giving its Filmmaker Tribute to Ferrara this evening at the historic Gusman Center, along with a mini-retrospective of some of the director’s films that are screening throughout the week.

At a rather informal press conference held in the penthouse suite of the chic Raleigh Hotel, Ferrara was joined by his longtime cinematographer Ken Klesch (who also heads the World Cinema competition jury here) and frequent collaborator, actor Willem Dafoe. “In Italy when I was growing up, Abel Ferrara was a kind of cinema legend”, MIFF Festival Director commented to the assembled reporters and photographers. “I was shocked to find that a film artist who has won so many international awards and is held in such high esteem in European circles is not equally revered in his own country. That is one of the reasons we wanted to bring Abel here to Miami and to showcase his recent work for audiences that have not had a chance to discover them for themselves.”

Ferrara himself is sanguine about the love-them-overseas-ignore-them-at-home phenomenon. “I just go where the opportunities are”, he shared at the press conference. “For over a decade I lived in Rome, because it was in Europe that I could find support for my films and live in a film culture that was not only about the big budget Hollywood film.” Ferrara is back in his native New York and will offer a work-in-progress screening later this week of his new film MULBERRY STREET, named for the Little Italy neighborhood he now calls home.

Ferrara was born in the Bronx to an Italian-American family. Raised as a Catholic, the themes of the catholic church were have a later effect on his work. After making several short student films in the 1960s, he got his first directorial credit on a pornography film under an assumed name. Ferrarra first drew a cult audience with his notable grindhouse movie Driller Killer (1979), an urban slasher in the mold of Taxi Driver (1976), about an artist (played by Ferrara himself) who goes on a killing spree with a drill in hand. The film attracted attention and retains a cult audience to this day. He followed it with the even more exploitive Ms. 45 (1981), a "rape revenge" film starring Zoë Tamerlis.

Due to the buzz of his first two films, Ferrara was hired to direct a big-budget version of his oeuvre called Fear City (1984). It starred Tom Berenger, Melanie Griffith, Billy Dee Williams, Rae Dawn Chong, and Maria Conchita Alonso. He also found work on television, directing the Michael Mann-produced television series Crime Story (1986) and Miami Vice (1985-87). He returned to features in 1987 with China Girl (1987), a modern re-telling of West Side Story as a gang war between the Chinese tong and the Italian mafia; followed by Cat Chaser (1989), a gritty adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel starring Peter Weller.

In the 1990s, he helmed two of his most well known and revered films. King of New York (1990) is a highly stylized crime drama, starring Christopher Walken, Wesley Snipes and Laurence Fishburne. In 1992, Ferrara directed Harvey Keitel in an acclaimed performance as an out-of-control police officer with a foul mouth and an addiction to sex and drugs in the cult classic The Bad Lieutenant (1992). The film was a love-it-or-hate-it cult hit that pushed the enveloped on good taste and the sense of the police as enforcers of moral order. Its shocking violence and gritty dialogue made it one of the first films to receive an NC-17 rating.

The 1990s was a period of dislocation and disappointment for the director. A remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and a limp thriller called Dangerous Game, starring Harvey Keitel and Madonna, were box office disappointments. The Addiction (1995), a black and white horror film starring Lili Taylor as a university student who succumbs to a vampire, and The Funeral (1996), which featured an all-star cast that included Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, Isabella Rossellini, Benicio del Toro,and Vincent Gallo, barely received theatrical releases, despite high profile nominations for the films and Ferrara at the Berlin and Venice film festivals. He also relocated to Rome, where he was able to find European financial partners for the underseen films The Blackout (1997) with Matthew Modine and Dennis Hopper, and New Rose Hotel (1998), which reunited him with Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe. Despite winning two major award at the Venice Film Festival, the films were virtually unreleased in the U.S.

In the past decade, Ferrara has mainly worked in Europe, including the films R Xmas (2001), which starred Drea de Matteo and Ice-T and the religious epic Mary (2005), starring Forrest Whitaker, Marion Cotillard, Juliette Binoche, Heather Graham, Stefania Rocca and Matthew Modine. The multi-plot film concerns an actress (Binoche) who stars in a Passion of the Christ-like movie about Jesus, where she plays Mary Magdalene, with whom she subsequently becomes obsessed. Ferrara received some of his most enthusiastic buzz in years for Mary, which premiering at the Venice Film Festival in 2005. It swept the awards ceremony, garnering the Grand Jury Prize, SIGNIS Award, and two others. But in the U.S., it bypassed theaters and went straight to DVD, as did his follow.up film, Go Go Tales (2007), starring Matthew Modine, Bob Hoskins, and Willem Dafoe.

The Festival has resurrected several of these “lost classics”, including The Funeral, Go Go Tales, King of New York, Mary and New Rose Hotel, in a mini-retrospective of the filmmaker’s oeuvre, and will screen his newest film Chelsea On The Rocks, a documentary on the legends and denizens of the infamous Chelsea Hotel in New York City, as part of tonight’s tribute. “Abel is a filmmaker who has made a body of work that deserves to be placed in the pantheon of independent filmmaking”, MIFF Director Finzi added. “I hope we are introducing these films to a new audience that will make them realize that Abel is one of America’s great filmmakers and one of its underappreciated cinema treasures.”

A Warm Oasis In Miami For Indie Filmmakers

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

For the legion of independent filmmakers who have descended on Miami for the Miami International Film Festival, the sunny climate and welcome atmosphere is a rare oasis of warmth in a world that has become decidely chilly.

At a seminar held earlier today as part of the MIFF Reel Education Seminar series, representatives presented a rather downbeat picture of the cold realities of the international marketplace. "Pre-sales of smaller independent movies are virtually impossible in this climate", Samantha Horley of Salt, a UK sales company, commented. The veteran international sales agent said that even success on the festival circuit is not the guarantee that it used to be for eventual distribution. "We had a recent film that had a great response at all the major film festivals, but in the end not one territory was sold", Horley shared with an audience of local indie filmmakers and visiting producers from Latin America and Europe.

"It's all about passion", fellow panelist Rodridgo Guerrero of Colombia based production and financing company Dynamo Capital offered. "This is not about getting rich or even about the glamour of film festivals", he added, "but doing whatever is necessary to make your dreams a reality." Guerrero has produced the feature films DOG EAT DOG and SATANAS, which premiered at the Festival in recent years and has the film NOCHEBUENA in this year'ss Cinema 360 program.

Frida Torresblanco, who produced the award-winning PAN'S LABYRINTH by Guillermo del Toro, stressed that first-time filmmakers need to find the ways to show what they are capable of. "My job as a producer is to interest sales agents, financiers and distributors in a project that does not necessarily have names attached", Torresblanco shared. "We need to communicate the unique vision of a director to show that not only will investors not lose their money but distributors can make the film work." Via her Ritmo Films banner based in New York, she is developing several film projects that span the North and South American continents, along with her contacts in her native Spain.

"We make mistakes sometimes in passing on what seem to be smaller films", Diego Halabi, CEO of Sun Distribution, a major force in Latin American distribution, admitted. "Last year, we passed on SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, not quite seeing how the story of slum kids from Mumbai would attract a major audience in the Latin American market. Obviously we made a mistake on this one, but it has made us pay attention to smaller films that we otherwise may have overlooked." Halabi also described how each country in Latin America has its own distinctive culture and regional dialect, making distribution in the territory particularly challenging.

When the subject of the internet, as both marketing tool and video-on-demand revenue source was brought up (by me, actually), panelists agreed that online viral marketing has benefitted smaller independent films that cannot afford big advertising campaigns or multiple print committments. "The dollar value from the internet is still an unknown", sales agent Horley commented. "At the moment, we treat it as another ancillary market, like video or television, but clearly there will be major developments in the next few years that could make it a major revenue source." Panelists and moderator Susan Wrubel, an international acquisitions consulant, cited the day-and-date releases of films in both theaters and on cable/satellite as a strategy that could make sense for smaller independent films.

While panelists made it clear that the landscape is challenging and the guarantees few and far between, they all encouraged independent filmmakers to keep at it and stay ahead of the curve of the industry proper in creating stories that film audiences will respond to. In this sense, Miami (with its picture perfect weather, abundant sunshine and lulling ocean breezes) is providing a necessary oasis of comfort and inspiration for filmmakers who must return to their native countries next week to face a chilly and intimidating economic environment. Enjoy your all-too-brief moment in the sun, indies.....

11 March, 2009

Rendez-Vous With French Cinema in New York

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The on-going love affair between American audiences and French cinema is having a honeymoon perriod over the next weeks, with the annual celebration of gallic moviemaking called Rendez-Vous With French Cinema. Co-presented by Unifrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the program is presenting 18 French films that range from the glossy to the gritty, reflecting the current themes of the current generation of French film autuers.

The series launched last week with a gala screening at the newly opened Alice Tully Hall ith the U.S. Premiere of Christophe Barratier's musical period piece, PARIS 36 (the film had its international premiere this past summer as the Opening Night Film at the Montreal World Film Festival). A follow-up to the director’s international hit THE CHORUS, the ation takes place in a Depression-era music hall in Paris. Sony Classics will release the film stateside April 3.

Among the highlights of the program is the biopic SERAPHINE, about the 20th century painter Seraphine de Senlis, that won 7 Cesar Awards earlier this week (the French Oscar), including Best Film honors. Another hot ticket item is Jean-Francois Richet's two-part MESRINE, which won Best Director and Best Actor honors at the ceremony. Vincent Cassel stars as the master con artist and criminal in the film that will have its U.S. release later this summer in the United States by newly created distributor Senator Entertainment.

Other well known directors participating in the series include Claire Denis ("35 Shots of Rum"), Agnes Varda (best documentary Cesar winner "The Beaches of Agnes"), Andre Techine ("Girl on the Train"), Costa-Gavras ("Eden is West") and Benoit Jacquot ("Villa Amalia").

Among the many celebrated French stars making appearances in films in the series are Catherine Deneuve (as the mother of a Jewish girl attacked in a hate crime in Andre Techine’s THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN); Gerard Depardieu as a troubled police commissioner in the latest suspense film by maestro Claude Chabrol; Isabelle Huppert as a damaged woman who finds a new life on the cosat of Naples in VILLA AMALIA by director Benoit Jacquot; and Emannuelle Seigner, as a distant Parisian professional in the ensemble drama CHANGE OF PLANS, from the mother-and-son filmmaking team Daniel and Christopher Thompson. For a full roster of films, visit the website:

Strong European Focus At Miami Film Festival

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The World Competition section of the Miami International Film Festival, one of the three important competitions of the event, showcases the latest works from up-and-coming film auteurs from around the world. This year, the program has a strong European focus, with many of the films making their U.S. premieres at the event.

France has the biggest presence, with two films representing the best of new Gallic cinema. I WANT TO SEE (Je Veux Voir) is a French/Lebanese co-production by Lebanese directors Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. The film mixes documentary and fiction in a fusion that breaks new ground and creates an intensive story. French superstar Catherine Deneuve plays herself, as she is driven by actor/artist Rabih Mroue to explore first hand the destruction in Lebanon following Israel’s war with Hezbollah in 2006. In KHAMSA, by director Karim Dridi, the focus is on a young French-Arab boy whose innocence rapidly fades away when he joins in a series of petty robberies.

French producers have served as co-producers for three other films that are making their premieres at the festival. In BULLET IN THE HEAD, by Spanish director Jaime Rosales, tensions run high in the Basque region torn apart by separatist politics. In Romanian director Adrian Sitaru’s HOOKED, a young couple’s idyllic day in the country turns nightmarish after a series of odd and unexpected events. Famed Ethiopian director Haile Gerima points to cross-cultural tensions in the story of a medical student who returns to his small village after a medical residency in Germany.

Winner of the Best First Feature prize at the Locarno Film Festival, MARCH by Austrian director Handl Klaus takes an intimate look at the unexplained suicides of three young men from a small Austrian town. Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who won the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was named by the International Film Guide as one of the Top Five Directors of the Year, has created an intense family drama about lies, deception and forgiveness in the film THE THREE MONKEYS. Tensions between an awkward teenage girl and her blonde bombshell sisters form the basis of Dutch director Mijke de Jong’s heartbreaking drama KATIA’S SISTER.

The mood is not quite as dark in several other films competing in the World Competition section. Irish director Lance Daly’s KISSES is a bittersweet drama about two preteens who head to Dublin to escape the bleak surburban reality of their lives. In INVOLUNTARY by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund, a roster of characters must confront their inhibitions about sex, violence and peer acceptance. Making it big is the credo of the Italian dramedy THE PAST IS A FOREIGN LAND by Daniele Vicari, the story of two young men who used their card shark skills to collect the fabled pot of gold.

Film’s ability to give us a great understanding of historical events is the subject of two enigmatic films. In LANDSCAPE NUMBER 2 by Slovenian director Vinko Moderndorter, gothic horror opens up a cache of secrets about an unresolved crime from that society’s recent past. Russian director Alexey German Jr., who won Best Director honors at the Venice Film Festival, tells the compelling story of a medical officer who is charged with monitoring cosmonauts in the country’s ambitious plans in the 1960s to be the first to put a man on the moon.

The non-European films in the program run the gamut of genres and cinematic styles. In American indie director Antonio Campos’ AFTERSCHOOL, an elite boarding school is rocked when two of its students commit suicide and a young man assigned to create a video project commemorating them creates a harrowing portrait of the banality of evil. In the Chilean/Bolivian/American co-production PERFIDY by Rodrigo Bellot, a young man embarks ona mysterious journey that takes him to a deserted motel in snowy upstate New York. SOI COWBOY, a Thai film that made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, explores the unlikely relationship between an overweight Danish man and the pregnant Thai teenager that he protects and ultimately abuses.

The stories are varied, the styles eclectic and the tones range from intensely somber to life-affirming, but this year’s crop of films in the MIFF World Cinema competition give adventurous viewers a chance to check the pulse of a still vibrant international cinema.

02 March, 2009

Film Comment Offers Neglected Gems

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Film Comment, the highly respected film magazine that is devoted to independent, international and esoteric cinema, is hosting an eclectic program of films best described as “neglected gems” at the flagship arthouse cinema of the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City starting this Friday.

The series of films that have premiered on the international film festival circuit but have yet to secure widespread distribution will offer 19 New York premieres, selected by the editorial staff of the magazine,. Running from February 20 to March 5, selections include new work by Michael Almereyda, Kathryn Bigelow, John Boorman, Jean-Claude Brisseau, Philippe Garrel, Fernando Eimbcke, and Paul Schrader, as well as Götz Spielmann’s Austrian drama REVANCHE, a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Academy Awards.
The series will also bring several cult favorites, including two iconic documentaries by Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines, R.W. Fassbinder’s revolutionary satire THE THIRD GENERATION and the Sapphic cult classic THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE.
The series opened last week with the New York premiere of LABYRINTH, a diary-like film by Michael Almereyda that pieces together 33 slice-of-life scenes shot in more than 20 cities, including New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Seoul, and Esfahan, Iran. Closing the series is the Iraq War military drama THE HURT LOCKER by Kathryn Bigelow. For more information, log on to: